CYC-Online 109 MARCH 2008
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child care workers

Child and youth care education

Gerry Fewster

Good Child and Youth Care isn’t brain surgery – it’s much more difficult. No educational courses, training programs or text books can give you what you need in order to be with, understand and guide a young person through the fear, pain, chaos and anger once these demons are at work. We are not dealing with theory and strategic intervention here. Being in relationship means that we have what it takes to remain open and responsive in conditions where most mortals – and professionals – quickly distance themselves, become “objective” and look for the external “fix.” And that’s precisely what most of their books tell them to do – they call it “treatment.” The other stuff is dismissed as “care”. I have yet to come across a standard professional text that instructs its readers to get involved, become vulnerable, sense your own fear, feel your own pain, stay curious about the experience of the other person and, no matter what, hang-in there.

These are not professional standards or even acquired skills; they are qualities that can only be learned in one way – from the inside out. Without them you can carve out a successful career for yourself in any of the helping professions – but not in Child and Youth Care.

So why do we go on and on peddling worn out theories, teaching useless and irrelevant techniques, preaching archaic practice standards and calling it Child and Youth Care training? Of course I realize that such topics as “self-awareness” and “relationship development” are listed in most Child and Youth Care educational and training brochures these days, but most are simply courses, complete with 40 hours of classroom instruction, three written assignments, an open book exam and a final project. Good luck!

The primary reason for this sorry state of affairs is that, in most cases, the trainers are teaching precisely what they have learned, in the way they learned it. And in this they are aided and abetted by educational institutions that reward them for upholding the academic principles and practices created by the classical learning establishments of the early 1900’s – they call it academic excellence.

But the problem begins well before these people take over. From the early grades onward, school systems teach students that knowledge is something to be gained from the outside and urge them to compete for the goodies from an ever-diminishing cookie jar. Pity the poor outstanding high school achiever who walks into a university class only to find that the professor refuses to spell out the pathway to academic success and suggests that each student should now take responsibility for his or her own learning. But imagine the confusion and fear that would be created if that same professor told the students “You are the focus of this course and your primary source of information is you.” What would the poor devils have to do to get their A+, and what evaluation criteria would the system accept?

If the essence of Child and Youth Care is to be nurtured by academic and training establishments it will take far more than a few token courses in “self- awareness” to make it happen. Let’s face it, if the process of discovering and developing the resources of the Self was ever to be taken seriously by the educators, their over-stuffed systems would fall apart at the seams. High level academics and administrators are not likely to put themselves at risk and, in any case, the systems are far too complex and interwoven to accommodate such a shift.

One option might be to create new free-standing training facilities that are not locked within the labyrinth, but who’s going to fund them? – certainly not governments or the pharmaceutical companies. And who will pay to go to such places, knowing that, on graduation, their qualifications will not be “transferable”? And who will hire them, when most of the organizations and agencies are seeking public recognition and respectability?

A less radical alternative is for enlightened trainers and educators to chip away at their own cell blocks within their institutional fortresses. I know of places where this is happening but they are few and far between and progress is frustratingly slow. We need many more cell block pickers if this strategy is to have any significant effect, but these are not the people educational establishments like to hire, and why should they? Their preference will always be for those with the most impressive academic credentials, not those that possess the personal qualities that reflect the essence of Child and Youth Care.

My own experience points in a different direction. I am convinced that the only real hope for change lies in the hands of the students, trainees, practitioners and professional associations who demand something different and have the guts to say “no” to the status quo.

Of course this carries significant risk, particularly when so many Child and Youth Care people are struggling to elevate this profession within the traditional status hierarchy, but in the final analysis, no institution or program can operate without students' fees. Unless this power is unleashed, little will change and we will continue to have the education and training we deserve.

This feature: Fewster, G. (2004). Editorial, Relational Child and Youth Care Practice, 17, 3, pp.3-4

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